The Italians are passionate about sport – football, formula 1, you name it. Rugby? Er, not so much…
Despite coming from a football-mad nation, the Italy rugby team’s profile has been improving and has been helped by significant improvements on the pitch in recent years. Since joining the (then) Five Nations in 2000, the Italians have normally competed with Scotland for the Wooden Spoon, but in 2007, the Azzurri recorded their first ever Away win in Edinburgh, and then defeated Wales in Rome for back-to-back victories.
Italy has taken part in every Rugby World Cup, and took part in the first ever World Cup fixture – they lost 70-6 against New Zealand in 1987 – but have since grown in stature as a rugby-playing nation. The public now takes more of an interest, and some of their rugby players are becoming minor celebrities.
Not least Alessandro Troncon – Italy’s most prolific player, who will add to his 95 caps at this year’s World Cup in France, which will be his fourth. The talismanic scrum-half learned his trade alongside the legendary Diego Dominguez, and is now the stand-out player himself with more caps than any other player.
The Bergamasco brothers – Mirco and Mauro – will also be difficult to miss. They both play for Stade Francais, with Mauro on the flank and Mirco in the centre both offering a potent threat in attack. The Italians play a very physical game, with big, hard-running forwards and uncompromising backs. They have a tendency to strangle the life out of the match, slowing the game down and hoping to pick up points whenever they can, whilst preventing the opposition from building a lead.
The 2007 edition represents Italy’s best chance of reaching the latter stages of a World Cup. Although they are drawn with clear favourites New Zealand, their main rival for a runners-up spot is Scotland – a team they have beaten three times in the Six Nations.
If they qualify from the Pool, they will face France, Ireland or Argentina in the quarter-finals, and so it’s not inconceivable that we will see Italy in the semis (although it would be quite an upset!).